Special Teams Coordinator and Defensive Line Coach
Roosevelt University (IL)
Gung Ho is a Chinese phrase that translates to “working together or working in harmony”. Kickoff operates in the same way with 11 players working together to create great starting field position for the defense. It also applies to develop harmony in practicing the variety of skills over the course of a practice week. I value developing skills at speed over practicing full schemes of return we are facing. There are several techniques needed to be successful in Kickoff Coverage. Finding harmony in developing an efficient way of balancing skills and techniques in execution with our opponent’s scheme in a tight time frame was my focus.
Our Kickoff scheme is set up like defensive fits in the run game would be designed. We attack our fits, our fits take us to the return. No lanes, run to your fit. Based on your keys we can play fast and precise. We have two-fold players that act like Robber safeties running the alley. The scheme also incorporates a spill and over the top player, as linebackers would execute in the run game. It allows us to play fast and effectively.
The positions are mirrored left and right. The 5’s are the Spill and Over the Top Players(OTT). The OTT player acts as a bonus ball guy. Linebacker types or bigger body safeties that have some speed work well here. Our 4’s are TE/DE/MLB types who are punch and press guys, physical and disciplined. The 3’s also act as punch and press players and often need to set an edge or “Chase the Puller”. OLB/Safeties/Bigger RB’s fit well in these spots. The 2’s are contain players. Speed is crucial, but discipline is paramount. WR’s/RB’s/CB’s work well in this position. Contain players stay outside of everything on a return to them or they are players who “trim the fat” at ball depth as they squeeze any return away. The key players for this unit are the 1’s or Fold players. They are essentially ball guys. If the ball comes to them, they fill, any return away they fold and find an alley. The fold players need to have instincts and speed. Great instincts will help some players play faster in this position if they don’t have great “timed” speed.
Zones of Attack
We have three zones of attack. The Fly Zone is from the -35 yard line to the +35 Yard line (Picture shows 20, Changed with new KO rules). We want to FLY in the Fly Zone. We want to beat blocks with speed or working backdoor. We do not want contact with any front-line blockers unless they retreat into the Strike Zone.
Strike Zone is from the +35 to the +25. This is where the majority of contact takes place. We must play physical and smart working to our fits as we attack blocks. Because we are fit oriented we need to defeat blocks to the side of our fit. We want to be heavy-handed, punching, and escaping blocks quickly.
The Big Play Zone is inside the +25 yard-line. This is where we must be great finishers. We want to secure tackles and have as many bodies attacking the returner to create momentum and field position for the defense. We want to swarm and create opportunities to get on top of any loose balls created by our physical play.
We will use a variety of kicks to help our unit be unpredictable and use it as a weapon for our team to potentially gain a possession. Deep Kicks, Sky Kicks, Pop Over, and Surprise Onside Kicks will be ways we will take advantage of spaces in the return unit. It also gives us ways to adapt to weather as the seasons change. Philosophically, I am a middle of the field kicker with some adjustment between goalposts. I know a few teams like to kick on a hash and to condense the field and have the cover units only cover 2/3rds of the field. As a return unit, I have taken advantage of this scheme several times with returns to the field. The condensed area, in my opinion, makes blocking like shooting fish in a barrel and we run to daylight.
Kickoff Keys and Fits
We look at the offensive return team as trying to execute a play versus the defensive kickoff team. We will all have a FIT responsibility within the scheme. We have a force/contain player along with alley players that are expected to make the tackle. Executing a proper kickoff is more than running down to knock someone down Kickoff is quite simple, it is a defensive play, and execution must be precise. Get to your fit, find the ball, tackle it, and get it back to the offense.
5s – Spill (Player to the side of the Kick Direction) player fits inside the number of the FB. The OTT player (Opposite of the kick) Scrapes tight off Spill Player and takes the best path to the ball. The pre-kick key is the Center/ Guard + FB triangle.
4s – Fit outside of FB – Punch, and Press, escape to your fit side. Pre-Kick Keys Center/Guard + triangle is your key.
3s – Fit outside the TE, Punch, and Press escape to your fit side. If TE works across the formation, chase the puller. Pre-Kick Key T/G/TE triangle.
2s – Contain – Set the edge of the defense, outside of everything. Everything stays inside. Return away, trim the fat at ball depth, looking for reverse or cutback against the grain.
1s – Fold or Fill to the ball. If the backside of the kick, fold. If the kick is to, then fill inside the 2 or 3 based on block scheme. Take the best path, make the play. The key is the kick direction and returner.